Sense and Sensibility: Jim Pirtle and Robert Catalusci, One Night Only
In Houston, if you’re an artist: whether visual, musical, literary, dance, theatrical, vocal, performance, or con, you eventually make a pilgrimage to Notsuoh, the social sculpture / perpetual performance art created by Jim Pirtle. Typically, the journey is neither planned nor wise, but it happens. You’ll find yourself pulled into the bar’s desultory conversations involving the profound and the mundane, the aesthetic and the philosophic, the political and the pop-cultural and everything in between.
Notsouh on a warm summer's night
One evening in early 2018, Jim Pirtle and fellow performance artist Robert Catalusci, who is in Houston as an artist in residence at the Station Museum, were discussing their art. Pirtle discussed how he was interested in exploring the senses beyond the standard 5 senses, such as the nociception, the sense of pain, and the vestibular, the sense of the body’s position in space / the world. Intrigued by the idea, Catalusci discussed the idea with him at length. By the end of the night, Pirtle proposed that they do a combined performance around the senses. Catalusci thought that was a great idea and agreed to do a show with him.
After a few days, Catalusci changed his mind. He still wanted to do the show, but he wanted his performance art piece to be completely different, which is par for the course for performance art. They got permission from Jennifer Free, the host of Performance Art Night (PAN), and Julia Claire, the director of Experimental Action to schedule their collaboration for PAN’s July installment.
So on July 3, 2018 upstairs at Notsuoh, Jim Pirtle will perform a piece entitled Vestibular, which explores the vestibular system and focuses on positional security, and Robert Catalusci will perform Alien God, a multi-sensorial performance art installation where a shamanic universe deconstructs the present metaphysical human condition.
Richie Hubscher and Jim Pirtle as Stu Mulligan performing at CAM Houston
Where Pirtle’s art is political with a small ‘p’ involving the interactions of people with each other in their immediate environment, Catalusci’s art attacks political systems, allowing cultures to collide, conflict, and eventually coalesce into an orgiastic alternate universe. Pirtle works at the guttural level of individual senses. Catalusci operates on the group’s complex sense of self. It’s sensibility. This distinction is not because the senses are more nuanced, but because they are simply more numerous. These different approaches both contrast and compliment each other, so that even though they aren't collaborating directly, they are contributing to a collective conversation about being in the world, physically, emotionally, and politically.
I spoke with both the artists to get a sense of what to expect in the upcoming show. Without giving too much away, Pirtle mentioned that he was going to bring back Stu Mulligan, one of his performance personas, for this performance. Stu Mulligan, the hobo-ish, lounge singer supreme that Pirtle performed in many shows including the Zocalo Theater and Performance Art Company in 1995. But more emphatically, he said that he is focusing on the vestibular sense and the idea of positional security, which in no uncertain terms seemed to highlight our personal and political security within the current milieu of Trump. In this sense, his upcoming performance references another work of his, Gump, which parodies the major motion picture Forrest Gump, a caustic political satire that Hollywood transmogrified into a sentimental comedy. I expect that Vestibular will similarly excoriate our current political actors through metaphor via an visceral exploration of personal, positional security.
A still image from goat foot ten by Robert Catalusci
Where Pirtle often sends in the clowns to engage and unsettle. Catalusci goes for high drama. His performances are part Hollywood action thriller (after all he hails from California), part Wagnerian opera, and part shamanistic ritual. He builds elaborate sets, writes entire scripts, brings in seasoned performance artists and actors as well as amateurs and then activates the space. Catalusci discusses the evolution of his process in a video of about his selected works. It increasingly has him orchestrating a larger and larger cast of characters/participants. A number of his pieces such as Promotion to Glory and Democracy Coming Soon to Your Town have focused on the military-political-industrial complex. Others, such as Sweet Meet and Bad Artist have involved his persecution and also sometimes food. In his more recent pieces, Catalusci has been introducing amateur or non-performance artists into his pieces, which lends them authenticity but also renders them more unpredictable. I expect that Alien God will include aspects of all of this: a little Politics with a capital P, some performance art persecution, and certain level of amateur performer unpredictability for good measure in an effort.
Come what may, the two back to back performances by these veteran performance artists will surely spark a lively conversation about our sense and sensibility of the current zeitgeist.